Movie Review: Asghar Farhadi's The Salesman: impeccable & intriguing
The Salesman (M)
125 mins ★★★★★
Jean-Luc Godard famously opined that all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun, but he clearly didn't foresee a filmmaker like Asghar Farhadi.
The Iranian director, universally acclaimed for his smash-hit, foreign language, award-winners A Separation and The Past, knows no equal when it comes to carving high-tension, naturalistically acted social dramas out of ordinary human failings. OK, so there is always a woman, but his incisive portrayals of male-female relationships under pressure need no weapon other than emotional pain.
Farhadi brings this same deft touch to his latest must-see, The Salesman – a tale of two amateur thespians whose marriage suffers under the weight of an appalling crime. The tone – that of enthralled discomfort for the viewer at least – is set from the very opening moments as a dazzling tracking shot carries the tension around an apartment block on the verge of collapse. Families flee as cracks begin to show in the stability of their homes, smartly foreshadowing the cracks which will rapidly appear in our protagonists' household as a series of unwelcome, yet horribly prosaic, events unfolds.
The Iranian context adds extra layers of complexity to the plot. Issues of revenge, shame and responsibility lie at the heart of a story which forces you to re-evaluate your own assumptions about how a situation "should" be handled, and instead lose yourself in the horror of the characters' own moral dilemmas. Elements of the main thread are foreshadowed by the play-within-a-film – Arthur Miller's timeless Death of a Salesman – in which Rana and Emad are rehearsing the lead roles. Farhadi takes every opportunity to draw parallels between art and life, from the Iranian attitudes to women's bodies which force a theatrical prostitute to wear headscarf and trenchcoat, to the heightened drama which unfolds on a pared-down set in both realities.
The Salesman is an impeccable film, from its authentic performances to its bravura camerawork and flawless editing. Farhadi eschews show-and-tell for the quiet tension of a slowly opening front door. Less subtle but nevertheless satisfying to spot is the recurring motif of mirrors (both metaphorical and literal) which serve to underscore the film's myriad themes.
Two hours in, you are as gripped as in the opening scenes yet nothing can prepare you for the final act. The Salesman is a masterful example of cinematic storytelling at its best.